Maggie O’Farrell wrote the phenomenal Hamnet, my favorite book of 2021. And I am on pins and needles for her new book, The Marriage Portrait, due out this fall. I have read two other O’Farrell works, Instruction for a Heat Wave and I Am I Am I Am, neither as good as Hamnet, but this one…ah this one was really good. Here is my book review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell.
Not unlike another story I read a couple years ago, The Women They Could Not Silence, O’Farrell takes us back in history to a dark time when husbands, fathers and even brothers could commit women to asylum’s…often for absurd reasons.
This is the basis of the plot of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. When Iris Lockhart learns she has an aunt she never knew existed, who is being released from Claudstone Hospital after being locked away for 61 years.
Iris begins to unravel the story of Esme Lennox, sister to her grandmother Kitty – a grandmother who has never mentioned Esme and has always claimed to be an only child.
The author takes the reader back and forth between the viewpoint of multiple characters (Esme, Iris and Kitty) and through the past and the present day as she magically weaves the plot and the sad story.
I didn’t love the ending…it kinda leaves you hanging. But nonetheless I really enjoyed this book. I hope you enjoyed reading my book review The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
Why Senegal? I’m not exactly sure why, except I had heard it was one of the more progressive nations on the African continent. Having visited Burkina Faso in West Africa as well as several other nations in North, South and East Africa, I was curious about Senegal. It was an easy hop from Morocco where we had been to attend a wedding, so why not? We spent five days. Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit.
The country of Senegal is home to 16 million people, and more than three million live in Dakar. Dakar, though more cosmopolitan than many African cities, is fraught with traffic and air pollution. Although a brand new international airport opened last year, other infrastructure is lacking and traffic is a mess. An incredible amount of construction of apartments and condominiums is going on. Our guide told us these are all privately funded and very expensive so not intended for the local people, who on average earn about $600 a month.
I don’t pretend to understand the government in Senegal (see Wikipedia on Senegal here), but from my brief observations there seems to be a disconnect between leadership and the people. Of course this is not uncommon in many nations, and especially developing countries. Although Senegal has never had a civil war or a coup, it’s not hard to imagine a ticking time bomb. During our visit teachers were on strike and had been on strike for several months. School children have nothing to occupy their days and…trouble ensues. Bored teenagers with no focus are the same around the world. Unemployment is 40%. Young men out of work wander aimlessly looking for fun and trouble.
How will this end? It was something on my mind as I pondered Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit.
We hired a guide from Senegal Odyssey Tours to help us explore the area. On our second day, Omour met us at our hotel and we spent a couple hours in the morning touring the city of Dakar, seeing colonial sites (Senegal was a French colony until 1960), and learning some history.
Next we headed to Goree Island via ferry, the most significant site in Dakar as far as history. The Portuguese arrived in the 1400’s to Goree and quickly secured it due to it’s strategic location for protection.
But in 1536 the Portuguese launched the slave trade, realizing the immense profitability awaiting them by trading human beings rather than goods. For the next 312 years, more than 20 million African people – men, women and children – were brutally captured, detained, raped, beaten, imprisoned and THEN loaded by the hundreds on tiny ships and sailed off to points west. Many would die before arriving. Many would survive but never see their families or children again.
Goree Island tells this story for the visitor by allowing visitors to see and feel the tiny prisons. Goree Island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. Learn more here.
We took a day off between tours and just relaxed and did some catch up work on the computer, as well as a short walk around our neighborhood of Almadies near our hotel called La Residence. This neighborhood is “upscale” and home to several embassies including the US Embassy.
But then the next day bright and early Omour was there to pick us up again as we began the nearly two hour drive to the fishing village of Kayar. The drive was long and slow and Senegal was experiencing a significant desert dust storm and I was wondering if this would be worth it. Oh yes it was.
Kayar was an astonishing site, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This is the most important fishing village in Senegal and we luckily arrived at the height of the morning catch frenzy. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Hundreds of boats. Thousands of people. Millions of fish. Highly competitive, a bit frantic and a bit frightening. The catch of the day included tuna, snapper, herring and barracuda. Fish were being pulled out of the boats by the thousands, no bad smell as they were completely fresh. Some of the fish is used in payment to the workers, some goes to local regional restaurants while much of it is frozen for the Asian market.
I had heard about the Pink Lake, but Omour didn’t want me to be disappointed so he made sure I understood the lake was not always pink. In fact the pink/rose color, which is created by algae, is most prominent on clear sunny days. And honestly due to the air pollution and sand pollution a clear sunny day is rare.
On arrival we found more of a dirty brown lake, in some places a blood red color. We took a small boat out to see the salt being collected. Salt mining in the lake is what most the local people do for a living in this region. We learned that only men do the salt collecting because it was determined a few years ago that women were having miscarriages from the salt.
The men cover themselves in Shea butter and only spend four hours in the four foot deep water. Here they scoop the salt from the bottom with a shovel, into a basket they hold down with their feet. Then they dump the heavy load into a boat. The salt can be a grey color, but once exposed to the sun it turns white.
Until 1978 this spot was the culmination point of the Paris to Dakar car rally. We took a dune buggy ride to see some of what remains of that route, and to see the crashing Atlantic ocean as it breaks onto Senegal’s western shores.
Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit
Senegal is one of the most developed African nations and I hope for the people here who need jobs and education to help catapult them forward. There is so much untapped human potential. I hope the government and the people can make it happen. I am glad I came. Thank you for reading my post Senegal – What I Experienced in My Short Visit.
Elie Wiesel survived. Millions did not. I have known about this book most of my life, but for some reason it never made it into my hands, until I picked it up when I was in New York at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Here is my book review Night by Elie Wiesel.
There are many World War II and Holocaust survivor books worth reading. I have read many. But this short and even simple story is so personal, so heartbreaking, so real. It took Elie ten years from the time he was liberated from the Nazi death camps to even talk about the experience. And in 1956 he finally did, in the book Night.
When Elie was 15 years old, he was deported with his family (father, mother and sister) from Hungary to the Auschwitz – Birkenau camp in Poland. Elie’s mother and sister were likely killed shortly after their arrival, but he never knew. Elie’s father died a horrible slow death. Elie was the only one to survive.
Over the years the book has had it’s critics questioning its factuality. Of course it has. There are those who think the holocaust is a hoax. But the pages of Night tell a nightmare of a young boy pulled from his studies in his home in Hungary and thrust into unimaginable horrors.
Night was a watershed moment for the holocaust literature. It has been translated into thirty languages and is often on the syllabus at universities. It contains profanity, violence and horror, as told through the eyes of a young man living it. Wiesel would live the rest of his days (he died in 2016) with regrets. He would go on to write dozens of books and in 1986 he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Wikipedia writes –
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a “messenger to mankind”, stating that through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler‘s death camps”, as well as his “practical work in the cause of peace”, Wiesel delivered a message “of peace, atonement, and human dignity” to humanity. The Nobel Committee also stressed that Wiesel’s commitment originated in the sufferings of the Jewish people but that he expanded it to embrace all repressed peoples and races.”
I am so glad I finally read this masterpiece. Thanks for reading my book review Night by Elie Wiesel.
It’s my second visit to the amazing country of Morocco, one of my favorite countries in the world. When I visited five years ago (pre-pandamit) we did a five day guided tour with desert camel night from Fez to Marrakesh. We loved it. This time, we only had three days available but we found a wonderful company Marrakesh Camel Trips who created an amazing Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez.
Our quick visit to Marrakesh was really fun, especially the Marrakesh Food Tour we did on our second night. I love this city, and wished for more time, but alas our tour began early in the morning. Our guide Lhoucine came all the way to our hidden Riad and met us right at the door, assisting with our luggage and taking us to his vehicle.
Because we only had three days (instead of the five for the same route when we did this before), we spent a lot of time in the car. But it’s a beautiful country and there is a lot of area between sites. The car we were in was comfortable and had plenty of space for the four of us and our luggage. We stopped multiple times to enjoy the remarkable views and scenery before arriving at the ancient city of Ksar Ait Ben Haddou.
Ksar Ait Ben Haddou
This amazing and ancient Moroccan village is one of my favorite things in all of Morocco. I highly recommend you visit here, even if you aren’t on a tour. It’s astonishing. Ksar Aït Benhaddou is a historic ksar (loosely translates to castle) along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh in Morocco. It is considered a great example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Morocco is home to nine UNESCO sites…Ait Ben Haddou is one of the amazing ones.
This beautiful region of the Berber people is both ancient and modern. We made a brief stop to learn about the industry here of rose agriculture and rose oil and other rose products. During the rose season (now) people stand on the side of the road and give visitors wreaths of roses.
It had been a long day of driving and we headed to our hotel called the Sultan Dades near Ourazazate where we had very comfortable rooms with a beautiful view and a great meal too.
This day will end with a sunset camel ride into a desert camp. But first we have a whole lot to see and do as our guide Lhoucine expertly takes us through this region. First, he has a special surprise for us. We go off road looking for nomads who live in caves. Not something I’ve ever done. Unfortunately nobody was home…LOL. Seriously, their campfire was still warm. Out tending the goats I guess. It was fun to see where they live during certain times of the year.
This amazing long narrow canyon is a must stop on your Morocco tour. I was here five years ago in the winter and it was chilly. But on this day my family and I had a lovely walk in the warm morning. You can stop and have a Moroccan tea and just sit enjoying the beauty of this unique geography.
Lhoucine took us on a little hike up the side of the Todras Canyon to see some more nomad caves and the view was great. Moving on we stopped at a Fossil museum and shop where we learned about how this entire region used to be under the ocean.
After a few hours drive, stop for lunch and a few other sites, we ended up in the area known as Erg Chebbi. We are now near the place we will ride the camels, Merzouga, but first we will visit an amazing market. I love it when I can go to a local market, with a local. There was nothing touristy about this market. And this is the hometown of our guide Lhoucine. He knew everyone. It was a wonderful way to experience an authentic Moroccan Market.
When I did the overnight camel ride before, I thought it was never going to happen again. I was a little worried I would be disappointed on my second trip. No need to worry. The second time was even better than the first. It was a beautiful evening, I was with my family AND our camp was outstanding.
First, Lhoucine made sure we stopped to get our Berber scarfs for the camel ride, before meeting our camels.
Luxury Desert Camp
The camel ride takes about two hours, which includes a stop to watch the sunset. It’s a remarkable experience, stunning scenery in it’s simplicity. A bit magical. I think the photos describe it best.
Arriving in camp I was overjoyed at how much nicer it was than the rough camp we stayed in before. The accommodations were comfortable, there was electricity and wifi and both breakfast and dinner were great. The evening was spent with music around the campfire before we all retired for a good night’s sleep.
We had the option of either riding the camels back or having Lhoucine come out in the 4WD and pick us up in the morning. We chose to do the 4WD because we wanted to arrive in Fez in time to meet our friends for dinner. So after breakfast and lots of good Moroccan coffee, we began our final day, a very long drive to Fez.
Lhoucine made sure we stopped to enjoy as many panoramic views as possible, to break up the long day in the car. As a very special treat, we stopped in the Atlas Mountains at a beautiful pine tree park where Lhoucine made us Berber tea over an open fire and we enjoyed Berber Pizza. Lhoucine had bought the pizza in the morning and like a magician pulled it out at lunch to enjoy with the hot mint tea. What a nice way to end our amazing tour with our amazing guide.
Marrakesh Camel Trips
A special thank you to our guide Lhoucine and to Marrakesh Camel Trips for taking such good care of us and helping my family experience both the tourist and the hidden sites of Morocco on our journey.
Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez
If you have the time to do this trip in four or five days it would mean not such long days in the car. But it is doable in three days and we enjoyed it so very much. We highly recommend this tour company, who have many different tours, and I hope you too can enjoy Morocco Three Day Tour Marrakesh to Fez someday soon.
Molly Gray struggles in social situations, and always has. She never knows the right thing to say or do and she realizes people find her strange. Until a few months ago, Molly’s gran was the center of her tiny universe, always helping her understand situations and simplifying the world. But now gran is gone.
And so is most of the money, and Molly Gray is working hard as a maid at the prestigious Regency Grand Hotel trying to make ends meet. Molly’s obsessive compulsive tendencies actually make her an very good maid…she loves perfection. But when Molly discovers one of the hotel’s wealthy guests dead in his room, all hell will break loose.
Not only does Molly’s orderly world start to crumble, but she finds herself the main suspect in the murder. Her strange personality is misread as suspect and before she knows it she has lost her beloved job and is in jail.
But out of the shadows comes friends Molly never even knew she had, and slowly things start to become clear. Who is the real murderer? What other sinister things will be found out? And will sweet Molly find happiness and stability?
Well they are making a movie so, yeah, you can guess some of that. But read the book before you see the movie. Always do that! Thanks for reading my book review The Maid by Nita Prose.
It was our second visit to the amazing country of Morocco, and I looked forward to sharing this trip with our two adult sons. There is so much to love about Morocco, and I suspect this won’t be my last time there. Marrakesh is my favorite city in Morocco, and we hit the ground running on arrival, with an Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh.
Arriving Late in Marrakesh
Our flight out of Dulles/Washington DC left more than five hours late due to bad weather. So of course we landed in Casablanca more than five hours late. We were very grateful to find our hired driver waiting for us, despite the delay. Jet lagged and exhausted we immediately started the two hour drive to Marrakesh.
It was our plan to have two full days in Marrakesh, but our travel delays took away most of the first day. We were extremely grateful that our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour we had booked with One Life Trips through Viator allowed us to move the tour to our second night. Otherwise we would have missed the tour and been out nearly $200 ($48 per person).
So instead of the food tour on our first night, we walked to the amazing and famous Marrakesh market square called Jemaa el Fna and wandered around the vast and various food stalls there. Be prepared to have everyone trying to get you to eat at their stall…it’s part of the fun. We ended up enjoying a colorful meal with kebabs, lots of veg and of course Moroccan tea.
Tip: The food in the market square , though authentic, is more expensive than places outside the market square. It is also all about the tourists. Although it’s very fun and should be experienced, hopefully you can also visit some restaurants outside of the square.
One Life Trips
Through Viator we found One Life Trips and our amazing guide Yahya. Again we were so grateful this company and our guide was willing to move our tour by one day due to our travel issues. On our second day in Marrakesh we walked all over the Medina and by dinner time we were very excited to embark on our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh.
Yahya introduced himself and told us a little bit about Moroccan food and Marrakesh. And then he said he hoped we were hungry, and we told him we definitely were. So off we went. For the next three hours we enjoyed one of the best food tours I have ever been on. And that is saying a lot. Here is what we ate on our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh;
Nuts & Dried Fruits
My previous travels in Africa and the Middle East have turned me into a date lover, and Morocco has some amazing dates. Dried fruits and nuts are a popular snack as well as used in many of the authentic foods of the country. Yahya told us that when he was a child eating a bag of fruits and nuts like the one shown here was something he did often. Delicious, nutritious and local. The market area has many vendors selling dried fruits and nuts prepackaged or by the bag.
Small Pastries and Cookies
Moroccans love their sweets and their is a decidedly French influence in many of the small bite sized sweets. Many small sweets are filled with dried fruits and nuts, and honey is frequently used too. Some of the bite size confections are made from a flaky phyllo-type dough, while others are hand formed dough wrapped around a filling much like a pirogi. Yahya took us to a stall where a man has been making and selling these sweets for fifty years.
Like so many North Africa and Middle East countries, olives are present at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both as a snack, and also featured heavily in tajines, we enjoyed olives throughout Morocco. Yahya took us to an area in the market with many olive dealers. Their stalls displaying the colorful variety of olives as well as preserved lemons and other Moroccan delights. We sampled spicy, garlic, lemon, dill and many more flavors of olives.
One of the best reasons to go on a tour with a local is because you will have a very authentic experience. This sweet old lady selling homemade Moroccan Macaroons is not someone I would have stopped at on my own. But Yahya knew what an amazing, delicate and delicious cookie she had. It was light and sweet with a hint of cinnamon. Just perfect.
Morocco has several different kinds of pancakes as well as flat breads. Msemmen is one of the most popular. On our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh we visited two different vendors hand making Msemmen right in front of us. The first one was a savory version with some cheese and herbs. Our second stop was a sweet version with butter and honey. The flat pancake is folded over several times and eaten by hand. Amazing. I’m gonna try this one at home.
One of my favorite foods of Morocco, the pastilla is actually from the city of Fes, but it is found many places around the country. We enjoyed it multiple times. It is a round pastry filled traditionally with pigeon but today usually chicken as well as dried fruits and nuts. We had pastilla that were nearly bite size up to 8 inches across. Sometimes it’s a very large pastry, cut pizza-style. I really loved pastilla.
I’m sure this local favorite has a local name, but Yahya called it a Moroccan Hamburger. We knew we were in for a treat at this tiny take away stall when we saw the long line of locals vying for this local fav. The bread was incredible, and the beef was served a bit like a sloppy joe…minced and cooked with a delicious variety of spices and sauce. Wow. I loved it. Snack Bachar is a hidden gem in Marrakesh.
Back in the market square of Jemma el Fna, Yahya took us to one of several vendors selling nothing but snails by the bowl full in a rich broth. I’ve had snails in France of course, and also in Asia, but the Moroccan version was sweet and earthy at the same time. Very good.
Lentils are served in many Moroccan dishes, including in soups or just on their own. I love lentils and make dhal or lentil soup often at home. The tiny bowl of lentils we enjoyed clearly had been slow cooked and made with loving hands. Delicious.
Definitely my favorite thing we had on this incredible food journey was the Marrakesh favorite known as tanjia. This was the first time I had enjoyed this slow cooked beef dish flavored with preserved lemons and olives. The meat literally falling off the bone with a tender yet citrusy flavor. Served with rice and a small salad, I was so full but I couldn’t stop eating. I need to learn to make this one at home.
Despite all the sweets around, yogurt is a favorite after dinner treat. I am a big fan of homemade yogurt. We make yogurt at home nearly every day and the version we had on our Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh was outstanding.
Authentic Moroccan Food Tour Marrakesh
Come to Morocco. Come to Marrakesh. And come hungry. The people are friendly and happy to have visitors back in their beautiful, historic and interesting country. The culture is unique and most definitely delicious. I highly recommend One Life Trips and our guide Yahya.
I hope you will embark on your own journey soon. Watch for another Morocco blog next week about our Three Day Tour from Marrakesh to Fez.
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Well I’m a big fan of Kate Quinn. She has a wonderful way of taking real life heroines and creating fictional stories. I’ve listened to four of her books now over the last several years, and I also really love the voice of her books on audible whose name is Saaskia Maarleveld. Here is my book review the Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn.
Like Quinn’s other books; The Rose Code (2021), The Huntress (2019), and The Alice Network (2017), The Diamond Eye is based on a real life World War II female heroine named Lyudmila Pavlichenko (Mila). When war breaks out Mila is a young mother, studying at university and trying to make a better life for her and her son in Kyiv.
But war changes everything, including Mila’s life as she finds herself thrust into service in the war against Hitler. But unlike most women who end up in nursing or administrative positions, Mila becomes a sniper, an unlikely national heroine known as Lady Death.
Although Mila is a real person, most of this story is fictional, as Quinn merges fact and fiction and a beautiful writing style that pulls the reader into Mila’s life, her loves and her fierce and determination to survive.
Mila will find herself thrust into the spotlight, meeting President’s and First Ladies, all while grieving her own losses and unwittingly changing the course of history.
I hope you enjoyed my book review The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
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